Nestled in a densely forested region of the Cascade foothills, lies a waterfall wonderland! Here, in Silver Falls State Park, the North and South Forks of Silver Creek plummet over ten deafening falls that can all be reached in one loop hike. This “Trail of Ten Falls” passes a seemingly never ending series of striking falls, each one so different than the last. Four of the ten falls fall from overhanging cliffs with deep caverns, allowing one to walk behind them — a rare and exciting experience. So many waterfalls, coupled with lush forest and clear flowing streams, make Silver Falls State Park a must-see for any waterfall aficionado.
The full Trail of Ten Falls loop is approximately 8.7 miles and follows the road for quite a ways to return to any trail head. To trim the milage, one can take the Winter Falls cut-off trail back to the road for a 5 mile hike and just drive to the other falls. From the South Falls parking area, follow the Canyon Trail down and behind South Falls. South Falls is the second most photographed waterfall in Oregon (after Multnomah) and for good reason. Watching South Silver Creek plunge 177 feet into a deep and impressive basalt amphitheatre is quite a sight to behold. The trail passes behind this falls where one can gaze out from behind it’s lofty veil.
Evidence from past lava flows are abundant behind South Falls. One can clearly see how separate flows have stacked on top of each other to form the layered cliff. It is also clear that each basaltic flow cooled differently as some cooled gradually to form columns, others cooled instantly upon water contact to form pillows and many formed as regular looking chunky basalt. Deep unconformities (areas of non-deposition) can also be observed between lava flows here, along with large paleosols (weaker soil buried between lava flows). All of the basaltic formations observed along the Trail of Ten Falls are part of the Columbia River Basalt Group, a vast series of lava flows that erupted from fissures almost 17 million years ago.
From the expansive pool below South Falls, follow the Canyon Trail downstream for 0.8 miles to Lower South Falls. Lower South Falls is wider but a bit shorter; nevertheless a powerful drop. The trail passes closely behind this falls as well. Standing immediately behind this deafening wall of water is an invigorating experience. At high flow, mist from the falls will soak in seconds. It is easy to become mesmerized by the intricate patterns the creek forms as it leaps off of the cliff edge.
The creek and trail mellow out a bit after Lower South Falls. For about a mile the trail meanders through lush woods, turning away from South Silver Creek to follow the North Fork. The trail continues along the North Fork and winds deeper into dense, moss-draped forest. Small tributary falls pour into the churning creek as one continues upstream. Soon enough, after crossing a bridge, the creek picks up speed, and voila! Lower North Falls comes into view – pouring wide and fast over a dome of basalt.
It is upon reaching Lower North Falls that one enters the most highly concentrated waterfall area in the park, and possibly the entire state of Oregon. The next waterfall is never far away as the trail winds along North Silver Creek. In less than a mile, the trail passes Double Falls, Drake Falls, Middle North Falls and Winter Falls—most of which are over 100 feet tall! In the wet season, North Silver Creek possesses enough flow to widen at the brink of Middle North Falls, creating a stunning veil of rivulets and torrents that funnel furiously into a frothy gorge. This waterfall is particularly special, as one can walk behind it and explore a deep cave nearby.
Upon climbing above Middle North Falls, take the Winter Falls Cutoff Trail to return to the canyon rim and the trail head. This path passes the lofty Winter Falls, and follows the main park road via the Rim Trail back to the South Falls Parking Area.
But wait! There are even more falls to see if one is so inclined. Drive 2 miles east on the Silver Falls Highway to the North Falls Trailhead. A short trail leads to the base of the falls from the parking area. Do not — at any cost — pass up the opportunity to see North Falls. North Falls is arguably the most dramatic falls in the region. Here, the North Fork Silver Creek shoots out into a stunning and deep gorge with deafening force. The area behind the falls has the deepest paleosol I have ever seen, allowing hikers to witness unique and panoramic views of the canyon from behind the falls.
Although the sheer number of waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park might seem like an overload, the falls described here aren’t even all that are accessible within the park! Upper North Falls can be reached via a short hike upstream from the North Falls Trailhead, and the smaller Twin Falls can be seen along the Canyon Trail, between Middle and North Falls. There are enough waterfalls in this small area to last anyone through a ten year drought.
Driving Directions: From Portland, take I-5 S to Marion County. Take Exit 9 for OR-22 E. Continue east, following signs for Detroit Lake/Bend. In 13 miles, take the exit for OR-214 N, signed for Silver Falls State Park. Continue along OR-214 for 11 miles to the park entrance.